Supported by grants from the AHRC, and Leverhulme Trust, this monograph (translated into Turkish, 2006) was the culmination of a longstanding body of work concerned with gender and Orientalism, and it has contributed new primary material and analytic frameworks for a number of related fields. While the figure of the oppressed, yet highly sexualised, female inmate of the Muslim harem has been understood as the pivot of western Orientalist fantasy (Yeğenoğlu 1998; Zonana 1993), little attention has been paid to the voices of self identified ‘Oriental’ women. Rethinking Orientalism remedies this by providing the first monograph on English-language books by Ottoman women from the turn of the twentieth century. Arguing that non-Western sources deserve critical attention of the same rigour as would be directed as canonical texts, my primary research on Ottoman women’s writing in English demonstrates that they were able to intervene in Orientalist culture with a self-conscious ability to manipulate cultural codes that is not usually attributed to the inferiorised, silenced woman of the harem stereotype. The project extended the range of primary material available to the developing field of middle-eastern women’s history (Frierson 2000; Baron 1994; Booth 2001) and changed the ways in which women’s sources are analysed by integrating theories of performative gender identity into the historicised critical examination of non-Western cultural texts. My research into publishers’ archives, literary reviews and author correspondence in Europe, Turkey and the USA meant that I could construct a materialist analysis of the conditions of production and reception of middlebrow Western harem literature. My analysis of how the Ottoman authors intervened in local debates about female and social emancipation challenges some of the orthodoxies that have emerged in postcolonial studies.
The project has prompted international keynotes and plenary papers, including Vienna, Berlin, Kuwait, USA (Tulsa, MIT), Toronto, Helsinki, Trier, Limerick.